Sunday, October 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Brianna Brace for an Uncertain but Possibly Rewarding Future in 'Freedom & Whisky'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 3.05 "Freedom & Whisky"

Brianna grapples with life-changing revelations and Claire must help her come to terms with the fact that she is her father's daughter. Roger brings news that forces Claire and Brianna to face an impossible choice.

This season of Outlander has been so successful so far because of its willingness to change up its formula. It's told stories in a different way by showing the parallel journeys Claire and Jamie have taken across the years. It's been a difficult time for them. For the longest time, they weren't even aware of what was going on with each other. Jamie needed to imagine that Claire and their child had a happy and healthy life far away from them while Claire needed to accept that Jamie had died the day she said goodbye. It was only in the discovery of the truth about Jamie that Claire's life began to be hopeful and full of passion again. She was able to connect with Brianna in a way that she never has before. There was the willingness to be completely open and honest with her about what was truly going on in her parents' marriage. It's been so difficult on her. And now, the emotions of that relationship only increase because Claire is given an opportunity to actually be reunited with Jamie. It's the conclusion this story was obviously building towards. Neither one of them thought they would see each other again. That's the tragedy of the situation. So, it's uplifting when they will reunite. But it's also heartbreaking as well. Claire has built this new life for herself. She's content with what she has accomplished and all that she still has to look forward to. Being with Jamie means leaving all of this behind. That's a difficult decision that this hour explores wonderfully well. It shows the complexity of the situation even while it is still building to that inevitable moment.

All of this is made possible because Roger has flown to America with news that he has discovered where Jamie is in the past. All it took was one little clue for him to be inspired by history and the inaccuracies produced by Jamie having knowledge of the future. Last week, it seemed like all hope was lost. Jamie was alive but forever lost to time because of the people who helped him survive and conceal his identity. The identity of James Fraser was gone. And now, Claire needs to be looking for Alexander Malcolm. That's how the world sees him now. Roger is only able to identify him as such because of a phrase he knows Claire taught him. "Freedom and whiskey" is a phrase that was openly mocked at the tavern last week. It was a big performance that was making fun of the plight for Scottish independence. But to Claire and Jamie, it was a rallying cry. Claire was informed by her knowledge of the past. She passed that along to Jamie which allowed him to succeed in his new life as a printer. The audience is operating with more information than Claire, Brianna and Roger are. And yet, it's still a mystery as to what happened to him after he left the Dunsany family. Roger's discovery possibly fills in the gaps. But we are asked to take that leap of faith right alongside Claire. She's diving into the unknown. This seems like a solid game plan. But there's still no guarantee that any of this will ultimately work out for her.

As such, Claire is annoyed that Roger has presented her with this opportunity. She didn't ask him to keep digging. She chose not to chase Jamie's ghost. And now, she is filled with hope once more. Hope that she'll reunite with her greatest love. But also fear over what all of that actually means in terms of giving up. This information has already been so disruptive. Brianna has spent her life growing up in a family that was fractured. She never understood why until Claire told her about Jamie. And now, she questions if Frank ever loved her or if he resented every time he had to look at her and see what Claire did to him. She's falling apart. She's failing in school and wants to live on her own without her mother's help. She's acting out because she still doesn't have a full understanding on what was real and what wasn't. She's still just believing and questioning the stories that have always been told to her. She can no longer trust that. She believes that history is nothing more than lies one tells as a form of comfort. There are hidden truths to everything that paint the broader picture. Claire and Brianna only really come together and have a genuine conversation after they run into Frank's mistress at a dedication service at Harvard. The faculty are honoring him. But it's an event filled with awkward tension because Claire is confronted by the one person who knows of all the pain she caused Frank over the years. That forces her to be honest with Brianna about how she was the only reason Frank stayed with this family. He loved her even though she wasn't his biological daughter.

And now, Brianna accepts that she can't be the reason for Claire to hold back in fulfilling her own dreams. She doesn't want to keep her mother from having the life she has always dreamed of having. Claire wants to return to Jamie. She has the knowledge of where he is at this point in time. She can find him again. But that means giving Brianna up for good. She is their daughter. Their love created her. She exhibits personality traits from both of them. She needs Claire's strength in order to give her mother this freedom. It's such a heart-wrenching moment as well. Claire leaving means Brianna will be all on her own for the first time. Yes, she has Roger to keep her company. There's no certainty that he will stay in Boston for her. There is the hope that he will. He has proven himself an important part of this story. Brianna can rely upon him to help her find the strength she didn't know she had. Their bond is growing stronger. That's a crucial element of this story. If Claire is going to leave her daughter behind, the audience most know that she is capable of surviving on her own. She certainly can and has the desire to do so. But it's nice to know that she's not all alone in this potential endeavor as well. But this is such a successful sequence because it delves into another life not lived for Claire. She's feeling the pull to return to Jamie. She can have that love once more. But that means not being there to see Brianna as she grows up. She won't see her fall in love, get married and have children of her own. She'll be giving all of that up. She'll be giving it up not knowing if Jamie still loves her the same way she loves him. She's afraid of what traveling through the stones again will actually mean.

But Claire does have the confidence to make that journey. She's empowered to do so because of Brianna and Roger. They arm her with gifts that will come in handy this time around. Her previous trip to the past was very traumatic. She didn't know what happened to her and was constantly in fear for her life. It was exhilarating because she met Jamie and fell in love. But that just meant she had so much more to lose once she returned to her original time period. And now, she's the one making the choice to travel through the stones. It's not being made for her because of the universe or Jamie. This is her decision. She's stolen equipment and medicine to ensure that she can continue to help people wherever she can in 18th century Scotland. She's an incredibly skilled surgeon now. She's giving all of that up in order to be Jamie's wife once more. At least, that's how society will continue to view her. But she's making the journey because it's the best thing for her. She's taking a risk on love and hoping it pays off. The show immediately cuts to Claire in 18th century Scotland once more. One second, she is getting into the taxi in Boston. The next she is walking down a busy street in the past. She's looking for the print shop that Jamie now works at. She's come so far. The emotion is swelling as she braces for the unknown. It's such a beautiful and nerve-wrecking sequence. She doesn't know what to expect. She doesn't know if he'll recognize her and still love her. She must forge ahead though. She needs to continue forward. She needs to find out herself. And so, she opens that door and reunites with him. It's such a fascinatingly directed sequence. Claire is towering above Jamie as he's on a lower level in the building. He's looking up at her as if she is an angel who has suddenly appeared before him. It's a miraculous sight. And then, he faints. It's so completely unexpected. They've dreamt about this moment for so long. And now, it has finally occurred. Jamie wasn't planning on this being the life-changing day for his life. Claire was and was still nervous about what would happen next. After 20 years apart, the two of them have reunited. It's mesmerizing to watch. The power and chemistry is still there between them. But it should be fascinating to see how this time apart has affected their relationship when they are together again.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Freedom & Whisky" was written by Toni Graphia and directed by Brendan Maher.
  • The use of the 1960s Batman theme to score the montage of Claire sewing together her outfit for 18th century Scotland is incredible. It may actually be the funniest moment this show has ever done. It's just so completely random. It pops up because Roger makes a passing reference to Claire having her own utility belt. And yet, it's wonderful to actually see occur.
  • Claire's life in Boston is either defined through her relationship with Brianna or her friendship with Joe. With Joe, they've been friends for many years. It actually feels like that too despite Joe not appear all that much. It still feels fine for her to talk about her life in cryptic details while also later asking him if she is still sexually desirable to men. It's a key friendship that she is leaving behind as well.
  • What's going on with those bones that have been sent to Joe though? It seems like such a random and not all that necessary plot beat. Claire feels a connection to them. It's a moment that signals importance for her future in the past. It's pointed out that they are 200 years old and from a white woman who was murdered in a brutal way. But being discovered in the Caribbean means that Claire and Jamie may be traveling more very soon. 
  • Roger notes that coming to America to visit Claire and Brianna is the craziest thing he has ever done. That certainly would be true if he was just coming to spend the holidays with them. But he has purpose as well because of the information he has discovered about Jamie. Of course, his trip also brings him closer with Brianna. It's even noticeable to Claire who notes that he is a good man.
  • Brianna saw Frank's mistress once before. Upon reflecting on that encounter, she realized that he looked at her the same way that he did to Claire when the two of them were actually in love. As such, she knows immediately that more was going on between them than simply being a professor and his student. Claire does try hiding the truth for a beat but does open up when pressed by Brianna.
  • It seems like the narrative will once again focus solely on Claire and Jamie in the past as they are trying to live these new lives together. It will be a return to the narrative structure of the first two seasons. That's perfectly fine. Though I do wonder if Brianna and Roger will continue to be seen. They've become important characters. They don't make the journey. But their futures will be exciting to see as well.